After a tough and undulating 196-kilometer (121.7-mile) course, the race came down to a thrilling three-man sprint in which the former Omloop het Nieuwsblad winner nipped Canadian Nickolas Zukowsky (Human Powered Health) at the line, with American talent Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost finishing third.
“My main strength is Classics, ‘short kickers’, technical courses and demanding races,” Vanmarcke said post-race. “That's exactly what we got today. I'm used to small circuits in Belgium with a lot of corners, so this race suits me perfectly. Maybe next year we can get even more [turns on the circuit].”
Held in the city of Baltimore, the Maryland Cycling Classic is the newest and highest ranked one-day professional cycling race in the U.S. The race drew a top-calibre international field with several WorldTour teams present and 111 riders representing an impressive 27 nations.
The last time the U.S. hosted an international field of this calibre was at the 2019 Amgen Tour of California, a multi-day WorldTour race that was last won by Tadej Pogačar. The CEO of USA Cycling called it the "most important bike race that’s happened in America in the last five years," and for the thousands of fans that awaited the riders at the finish line, the race delivered.
How the race unfolded
The pack rolled off the start line at the Kelly Benefits headquarters in Sparks, Maryland where they soon traversed scenic country roads that were either up or down but never flat.
From the pastoral roads, the field would wind its way to the urban landscape and waterfront of central Baltimore, where they would complete four circuits and finish in the Inner Harbor area. With its many uphills and turning roads, the course had breakaway potential but could just as likely end in a bunch sprint.
There were various jerseys on offer in addition to the yellow winner's jersey, which made for various points of excitement throughout the race, including 3 sprints and 3 KOM climbs.
The breakaway game started playing out early. Around 23km (14.9 miles) into the race, a 20-rider break, mostly consisting of WorldTour teams went clear and grew to 3'40". These riders included Quinn Simmons and Toms Skuijns (Trek-Segafredo), Magnus Cort, Andrea Piccolo and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost); Adam De Vos, Nickolas Zukowsky and Kyle Murphy (Human Powered Health); Robigzon Oyala and Walter Vargas (Team Medellin); David Lozano (Novo Nordisk); Michael Foley (Toronto Hustle); Darren Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon); Krists Neilands (Israel Premier Tech); Eder Frayre (L39ion of Los Angeles); Tiana da Silva (Pro Touch); Alexandre Balmer and Schultz (BikeExchange Jayco).
From this break Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) won the first KOM points ahead of Frayre (L39ion of Los Angeles) and Oyala (Team Medellin).
As the break neared the second KOM climb, riders started getting shelled off the back by Oyala's pace. Oyala won the second KOM points ahead of Piccolo and Powless.
At 100km (62 miles) into the race, the break was down to 12 riders— nine of them WorldTour riders— with a time gap of 3'10". Israel-Premier Tech's Jenthe Biermans took the first sprint points, and Simmons went on to win the third and final KOM points.
Riders continued getting dropped off the back of the breakaway as their time gap neared 6 minutes going into the finishing laps of the city circuit.
With three laps of the circuit to go, riders weren't keep to enter a finale sprint with such a big group and the attacks started flying. Before the lap was done, the attacks had served their purpose: a new break of four riders formed and got some daylight. These riders were Vanmarcke (Israel Premier Tech), Zukowsky (Human Powered Health), Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Skujins (Trek-Segafredo).
Going into the final circuit, it was clear that one of the four riders in the lead group would be crowned the winner though EF Education-EasyPost's Andrea Piccolo was bridging over to double Ed Education-EasyPost's chances.
But in the final 750-meter straightaway, it was the 34-year-old Belgian who timed his last effort perfectly to emerge victories.
“This was a really hard race because you couldn't hide. EF speeded it up after 60 or 70k and split it again. We were only left with 12, and one by one everyone was getting tired. I could feel it in the final that I had to be in every break because I knew it was going to split again. I think together with my teammates we played good tactics and I'm super proud to win here in America," commented Vanmarcke.
1. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) Israel – Premier Tech 4.34’45”
2. Nickolas Zukowsky (CAN) Human Powered Health +00”
3. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost 00”
4. Toms Skujins (LAT) Trek-Segafredo +1”
5. Andrea Piccolo (ITA) EF Education-EasyPost +6”
6. Magnus Cort Nielsen (DEN) EF Education-EasyPost +6”
7. Jenthe Biermans (BEL) Israel-Premier Tech +6”
8. Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek-Segafredo +11”
9. Alexandre Balmer (SUI) Team BikeExchange-Jayco +11”
10. Robigzon Oyola (COL) Team Medellin-EPM +11”
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